BIRKAS HAGOMEL: BENEDICTION AFTER AFFLICTION
Should a recovered COVID-19 patient bentch gomel?
Adapted from the writings of Dayan Yitzhak Grossman
The Gemara states: “Four must offer thanks to Hashem.” One of these is “one who was ill and recovered.” These thanks take the form of a korban todah, but in the absence of the Bais Hamikdash, Chazal instituted birkas hagomel in lieu of the korban.
There are three opinions among the Rishonim as to what level of illness is sufficient to trigger the obligation:
- Even a mere headache or stomachache is sufficient. (Later poskim do not accept this view.)
- Only a more serious illness that causes one to take to his bed triggers the obligation. This opinion is codified by the Mechaber and is endorsed by a number of Ashkenazi Acharonim and the Kaf Hachaim, who asserts that the (Sephardi) custom follows this view.
- Only a potentially fatal illness triggers the obligation. The Rama cites this opinion and apparently endorses it, and the Aruch Hashulchan asserts that the (Ashkenazi) custom follows this view.
Many Acharonim rule that even according to the third view, one recites the bracha over any illness during which he took to his bed for more than three days. Conversely, some apparently rule that even according to the second view, one does not recite the bracha unless he was bedridden for at least three days. Others disagree.
The Acharonim cite a ruling of the Maharil that one who suffered from kadachas (fever or ague) must bentch gomel . But the Biur Halacha says that although according to the second view an ordinary fever is sufficient, according to the third view a life-threatening fever is required.
In light of the above, it is obvious that one who recovers from a severe, life-threatening case of COVID-19 would recite the bracha. The halacha is less clear regarding one who recovers from a mild case: On the one hand, the patient was not in any actual danger, and some Acharonim rule that one who avoided a thrown stone or evaded enemy pursuit does not recite the bracha, as it is only recited upon the experience of actual danger and salvation and not when the danger was avoided. Other Acharonim, however, apparently disagree, ruling that hagomel is indeed recited by one who escapes potentially lethal injury when a falling rock narrowly misses him. Similarly, some poskim assert that walking under a dangerously leaning wall would have obligated one in the bracha were it not for the fact that the event is transient and brief. Moreover, in our case the patient actually did suffer from COVID-19, an inherently deadly disease, and his condition could have deteriorated, so perhaps he does recite the bracha.
If a relatively mild case of COVID-19 is not considered a potentially fatal illness, then if the patient was bedridden for more than three days, he would nevertheless recite the bracha according to the second view above—and according to many Acharonim even according to the third. If he was bedridden for less than three days, he would definitely not recite it according to the third view, and poskim debate whether he would recite it according to the second view. If he was not bedridden, all would agree that he would not bentch gomel (assuming we do not automatically consider any COVID-19 infection to be potentially lethal).
May Hashem send refu’os veeshu’os to all cholei
Berachos 54b. See Piskei HaRosh ibid.9:3 Sefer Ha’aruch, as understood by Rosh ibid. and Tur Orach Chaim end of siman 219;Ramban in Toras Ha’adam Sha’ar Hahoda’ah;and possibly Rambam, as understood by Tur ibid.(but see Bais Yosef and Bach ibid.). R’ Yosef, cited by Rosh and Turibid.(and cf. Eliyah Rabbah ibid. s.k. 13; Ma’amar Mordechai ibid. s.k. 9). Shulchan Aruch ibid. 219:8. Shu”t Radvaz cheilek 3 siman 1001 (572); Bach at the very end of siman 219 (and see Magen Avraham s.k. 8); Eliyah Rabbah ibid.; Magen Giborim ibid. s.k. 14. Cf. Mishnah Berurah ibid. s.k. 28. Kaf Hachaim ibid. s.k. 44 Ra’avad, cited by Toras Ha’adam and Tur ibid. Shulchan Aruch ibid. Aruch Ha’Shulchan ibid. 219:11 Taz ibid. s.k. 5, cited by Eliyah Rabbah, Magen Giborim, and Aruch Hashulchan ibid. Biur Halacha s.v. k’gon, however, is uncertain about this. Chayei Adam Klal 65 se’if 6, cited by Mishnah Berurah ibid.; Ben Ish Chai, Shanah 1 Eikev os 7; and cf. Biur Halachaibid. Kaf Hachaim ibid. s.k. 46; Or L’Tzion cheilek 2 perek 14 teshuvah 44; Yalkut Yosef 219:23. Sefer Maharil, Hilchos Krias HaTorah, cited by Eliyah Rabbah and Magen Giborim ibid. Biur Halachaibid. Maharal in Nesivos Olam, Nesiv Ha’avodah ch. 13, and cf. R’ Doniel Neustadt, The Blessing Of Ha-Gomel, The Daily Halachah Discussion, pp. 106-107. I do not
understand the distinctions that they make. Cf. Radvaz ibid. (citing R’ Avraham Av Beis Din). Chayei Adam ibid. Se’if 4. Cf. Shu”t Divrei Nechemia Orach Chaim siman 14, mentioned (briefly) by S’dei Chemed (Vol. 5) Asifas Dinim, Ma’areches Berachos siman 2 os 14 and Kaf Hachaim ibid. s.k. 10. Abudraham, Hilchos Berachos Sha’ar 9, cited in Eliyah Rabbah ibid.Cf. Shu”t Sheivet HaLevi cheilek 9 siman 45.  In a personal communication, R’ Doniel Neustadt wrote: “It’s poshut to me that one who has a mild case does not recite hagomel, since the vast majority of people who contract Covid recover easily and without any danger. So in most cases it’s merely a nuisance…in which there is a clear minhag that we do not recite hagomel.”
The halacha may ultimately hinge on the infection fatality rate (IFR), as opposed to the case fatality rate (CFR), of the disease, a figure that has not yet been established with confidence. For a detailed exploration of this issue, see https://ourworldindata.org/coronavirus#what-do-we-know-about-the-risk-of-dying-from-covid-19. The strict view is the position of Halacha Yomit – Halacha L’Yom Sheini 5 Nissan 780 (retrieved 21:36, Apr 20, 2020). Cf. R’ Noam Dvir Meisels, Ha’im Choleh Corona Shehechelim Tzarich L’varech Hagomel.
 R’ Chaim Kanievsky was reported to have ruled that a survivor of COVID-19 should recite the bracha only if his life was in danger. (I am indebted to my wife for bringing this to my attention.)